“You will regret it!” is one of the most common statements that childfree women hear from other people whenever we voice our choice to not have children.
Some people really, honestly think that we’re not in our right minds. They think we are not mature enough to make such an audacious decision, that we have no idea what this choice means for our lives and our futures, and so they choose these seemingly innocent words to let us know that we’re wrong.
Ask the same person who says this to you what compels them to make such a bold declaration and they will answer with something along these lines:
“Because you will be lonely and sad”
“Because no one will take care of you when you’re old”
“Because no woman is complete without a child”
“Because you will have no purpose in life”
Some of us have felt a bit uneasy after hearing this. Maybe some doubts or anxiety regarding our choice to remain childfree have crept in after thinking: “what if they’re right?”
I wanted to know what childfree women in their late 50s, in their 60s, and in their early 70s thought about this subject. I wanted to know why they had decided to remain childfree and how they felt about their lives now that changing their minds and having a biological child was next to impossible.
I asked them two questions:
- When did you decide to embrace the childfree lifestyle?
- There are many people who tell young childfree women that they will regret not having a child in their later years. What would you say to these critics?
These are the answers I received from 18 elder childfree women:
Lisette Schuitemaker, Author of Childless Living, The Joys and Challenges of Life without Children, 66 years old
“I didn’t really decide to live childfree. Mine was more a gradual discovery that I was indeed free to not go the well-trodden path of raising a family that, especially as an eldest daughter, I was supposed to go.
A turning point was when I broke my engagement at age 25. That was a first pointer to myself that I didn’t look forward to life I was assumed to embark on. Times were different, though. And I was an eldest who wanted to please my parents and only gradually found out that I couldn’t make the sacrifice of having children to please them.”
“I will say that they are probably projecting their own lives or wishes onto young women. And that they are probably not truly asking these young women about who they are, what they love, and how they envision their lives. I would ask that they examine their own motives for saying what they say. And I would remind them how wonderful it is that we live in times and places in which young women can make choices of their own. And that yes, making a choice in the way we direct our lives has the risk of regret but I for one have never had it and I know many women and men who like me rejoice in the choice they made because of having been true to ourselves!”
Susan, 59 years old
“I never really had a strong urge to have kids. When I was 27, married only 2 years, my husband was diagnosed with a pretty serious medical condition, Marfan Syndrome, and had open heart surgery. We would have a 50–50 chance of passing it on and neither of us were the kind who were going to die if we didn’t have kids, so that made the decision for us.”
“I think everyone, no matter what decisions we make in life, will question and have the “what ifs” later in life. But I’ve seen enough people who are overstressed and poor due to having kids, and while they experience things that I won’t by not having kids, I also get to experience things that they don’t — for example — I was able to quit my full time job when we had moms needing a lot of care — and we are able to retire to our dream home because we have the funds to because we didn’t pay for college or weddings. I really hate people that say, “but who will take care of you in your old age?” I have spent a lot of time in the care center taking care of mom, mother-in-law, and grandma — and I saw first hand that having kids doesn’t ensure someone will take care of you!”
Leann, 66 years old
“I don’t ever remember making a decision. As far back as I remember I never felt the need/urge to have children. It’s more who I am. My lifestyle is just a result of being childfree. It was all a natural occurrence for me.”
“I don’t take things personally so I have never paid much attention to those opinions. Usually just laughed them off with no reply. I mean everyone has opinions on almost everything. I find those opinions no different. Blow them off. It’s none of their business. Bottom line.
I’m not sure I could give advice to anyone as to whether they will regret it or not. We are each different with different reasons to not have children. What I will say is we are all always free to change our minds at any time and do what our heart tells us. You have to block the chatter of family and friends and follow your heart. If you do that, I don’t think you will have regrets. It’s important to examine the reasons for your decision.”
Sharon, 58 years old
“Never wanted children since I first found out where they came from.”
“My answer to your second question is: just look at what humans are doing to this planet and realize just how unsustainable it is to keep reproducing any more of us parasites. Let’s face it. That’s what we are.”
Cynthia, 60 years old
“I never really decided to not have children, I just never saw myself as a mother. Never saw myself with kids. I have always loved to play with kids, always loved them, just never wanted one of my own. It’s a responsibility I didn’t want. I’ve only had one pet, she lived 17 years and we got along just fine. Is having a child something you do for yourself? Like adopting a pet? Some people have children for strange reasons that I’ll never understand.
Live your own life. You shouldn’t have children thinking they will make you happy. I have never regretted not having them. My time, my resources, my emotions… all mine. Some call it selfishness. I call it smart.”
“I have never regretted it. Children grow up to be adults. What if they don’t like you? What if they grow up to be mean? Stay safe, stay childfree, live your own life. You might regret having children if you do have them. You might regret having the responsibility of raising a responsible human. Do you want to travel? Have a career? Have a loving relationship with no interruptions? Get a dog. They are perfect companions that love you unconditionally.”
Rita, 63 years old
“I chose [the childfree lifestyle] in high school when I took a childcare class; it was eye-opening.”
“I would tell them they could always adopt a child when they are older and more stable. That avoids pregnancy and helps a child. If they don’t change their mind, it’s all good too.
I would also emphasize that no (NO) life situation will be improved with a baby. That would be more of a business deal to expect something back. Do it because that is really what you want.”
Irene, 63 years old
“I consciously embraced the childfree lifestyle at around age 40. My feeling about having a child until then was ambivalent, based on the primary criteria that I would never have a child without being married and/or in a stable relationship with a father. When I met my husband, we explored fostering children as a precursor to possibly having one of our own. We took classes and were certified to foster, conditioned on moving to a bigger place. Well, we liked our place and did not want to move, and this pretty much convinced us that if we had a child, we would have to make a lot of sacrifices or compromises we wouldn’t be willing to make. We had both become accustomed over the years to our freedom and just couldn’t give it up. To this day, I couldn’t be more satisfied with my decision.”
“Having a child is about the child…not you. Given that such a large percentage of parents are poor parents…whether too authoritarian, abusive, or neglectful, (just check out the statistics, it’s almost HALF), it’s clear that this choice to have kids is being made by a large portion of people that are not capable of actually raising one. When you focus solely on your own regrets, you are basically making a decision that is selfish. Most people do not take the time to seriously educate themselves on what it takes to raise a child. They won’t do the homework, like take developmental psychology classes, care for someone’s child for an entire summer alone to try it on, realistically assess if they can actually afford one.
If you are a truly self-reflective person, in touch with exactly who you are, the best decision for you and the child to be should be the right one. Hopefully, for the large number of people that are going to end up being poor parents, that will and should be, to choose to NOT have a child.
I would much rather live with the regret of NOT having one, than the regret that I brought a child into this world that I damaged.
Thankfully I don’t have to do either.”
Janet, 58 years old
“I started babysitting at 12 and realized I did not want any. Babysitting was fine, but I couldn’t imagine that 24/7/365. I asked for a hysterectomy for my 18th birthday. People said all the time that it is different when it’s yours. I used to say: ‘of course it is. I wouldn’t be able to go home or give it back.’ I also used to say ‘if I have one and it’s not different, will you take it off my hands?’ My MIL said she wanted another grandchild. I told her I wasn’t having a child that neither her son nor I wanted just so she can say she has another grandkid.
I had a male coworker who was having a third kid and he was always waxing poetic about how beautiful it was. I said the concept of creating life is beautiful but there is nothing beautiful about pregnancy or childbirth. If everyone was honest about it women wouldn’t get pregnant. I went on to mention stretched skin, the popping out belly button, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, breasts that hang like cow udders, widening pelvis, bigger fatter feet, losing the glamourous sounding mucous plug, water breaking, laying on your back with your legs spread while strangers stare at your crotch and fluids ooze out, maybe a bit off poop seeps out… Yeah, that’s beautiful imagery. He said I was immature. I said I was a realist. I said that’s why men don’t want women educated.
It’s been mind boggling the number of pregnant women I’ve known who didn’t know half of what I mentioned before they went through it. The older I’ve gotten hasn’t ever made me change my mind and want any. It only reinforced not wanting one and not having any was the right decision.”
“I have not regretted not having a child for even a fraction of a second. The reasons women want children have never applied to me. They want to keep a man. Having a child will not help you keep a man and if you want to get rid of one, guess what, you’re bound together forever because of that child. They think a child will make their life better. How? If you don’t make ends meet before a child, it will be harder after. If there are things you enjoy doing, how many will go by the wayside because of no time or money to do them. You want unconditional love? There is no such thing. I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say I love my child, but… I wish I had a nickel for every time I thought or said, I love my mother, but… You can love someone and can’t stand to be in the same room with them. If that is unconditional love, I’ll pass. I’d rather be with people I choose to love and want to share my life with and want to be in the same room with.
Society likes to make women feel guilty if they don’t have kids, or somehow they are less of a woman. I really don’t care if some ignorant fool thinks I’m not a woman because I didn’t have children. Guess what? Impregnating a woman doesn’t make you a man. Impregnating a woman doesn’t make you a father, either.”
Sharon, 69 years old
“I decided in my early 20’s I didn’t want kids. I didn’t really have a desire to at all. I also thought I might not be a good parent and I didn’t want a kid to have to pay the price for that. I don’t regret it for a moment.”
“For those that tell people they will regret it I would tell them to be honest about it. There are so many people who have kids and truly don’t want them. I have heard people say it but also I have seen those that don’t admit it. It comes out sideways with disrespect, arguing, belittling their kids.
Also, I think people are afraid to not conform to so called social norms. That needs to change. Women are here to do more than just reproduce.”
Cathy, 67 years old
“When I was about 19 or 20, I read a book called “The Baby Trap,” by Ellen Peck. It was a revelation to me that, not only were there other women who didn’t want to have children but that it was actually perfectly okay to feel that way. I never looked back.”
“I would say, stop trying to tell other people how to live their lives. I see people schlepping around kids with them to restaurants, movies, hotels — I feel nothing but pity for them. But would I tell someone who wants to have a child that they’ll regret it? No. (Would I think it to myself? Yes!)”
Molly, 62 years old
“I knew I did not want to have a teen pregnancy or be a single mom. Then when I was 25 I got together with my ex-husband. We were both quite ambivalent about having kids, leaning heavily towards not having kids. We eventually decided not to. There were so many reasons to not have kids: the environment, poverty, war, famine, torture.
I am really good with kids and enjoy being with them. I’ve been working with B-5 children for 35 years, 20+ of those years in special education. It took me a lifetime to develop those kid skills. I would not have been a good mother though. I am wistful about not being a grandmother, but I would be so worried about any grandkids during these scary times. I worry about who will advocate for me, like me and my siblings did for my mother when she had dementia.”
“People who choose not to have kids may have regrets, but life is full of regrets. It’s a reasonable decision to make.”
June, 59 years old
“I decided to embrace the childfree lifestyle pretty much in grade school. My mother had 2 kids and was not happy being stuck with them. So lots of screaming and yelling and throwing things, until I was 17 and left home. As a grade school kid, I thought I might one day adopt. As I became a teenager and started babysitting I realized I was just not inclined to be motherly.”
“I have many regrets for my stupid decisions in life, but being childfree is not one of them! It’s a really good question, this one…and it frustrates me that women are expected to have kids in order to be accepted. I’m from the US but have lived in Norway for the past 8 years and the attitude is just as bad here.”
Diana, 68 years old
“I was probably about 5 or 6 when I first stated to anyone that I didn’t want to deal with proto-humans (someone handed me a sticky toddling thing and I remember saying take it or I’ll drop it). My mom told me that at age 14 at a benefit for the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic I asked Dr. Smith about a hysterectomy. At 18 I was asking the college health clinic about one. Mom was not surprised when at 27 I asked her to drive me to get my tubal.
Keep faith in yourself. Know yourself. And if you are serious, don’t depend on basic birth control. Work on getting a tubal or hysterectomy. If you are not sure about doing that, you may not be sure.”
“Back early on, I was so vocal about being childfree that nobody ever tried to say that! I’m always astounded that anyone is still getting grief. Probably would tell [childfree people] to just say ‘ew, yuck’.”
Dr. Jane Henderson, 73 years old
“I am an only child and announced that I did not like or want kids when I was 12 (of course, no one believes you 🙂).
I have had a wonderful life and still do! Have had several “careers,” lastly as a Professor in four different grad schools. I traveled when younger and I moved when I felt like it. I’ve made many friends all over the country due to my online work and stay in touch with them and with a number of childhood friends. I’m active in community service and in conservative politics, so busy all the time. I am married to a lovely man now, having divorced my first husband when he got baby fever after five years! As for the future, I have a great Financial Planner and a Trust attorney. All assets remaining at my death go to two dog rescue venues, one which specializes in orthopedic surgeries.”
“I don’t believe in critics of being childfree any more than I believe in critics of tattoos!
‘Mind your own business’ would be my mantra.”
Judith, 58 years old
“I never felt drawn to motherhood. It wasn’t weird in my youth. An etiquette book at the time advised people never to ask a couple when they are having children. ‘Either they can’t, in which case it is painful, or they can, but won’t want to, in which case it’s rude to expect them to give reasons on demand. MYOB.’”
“We make all kinds of decisions in a lifetime. Some we regret, but I think I should know more about why I make the choices I do than anyone else. It isn’t acceptable to tell gay people they should change, how is it OK to tell thoughtful adults they should procreate in an overpopulated world?”
Belissa, 62 years old
“When I was a girl in the late 60s and early 70s, I guess I expected to “fall pregnant” as they say in the UK, as would any intelligent girl having sex with boys before 1973, when abortion was legalized.
My solution when I was a teen was that I figured I could give the baby to my mother to raise.
That would NOT have been fine with my mother, however! When I realized that she would not be on board with this, I realized that I should not have any children because I did not want to raise children. I have never been capable of being responsible for another human being. Probably by that time I had a better handle on birth control, and of course abortion had been legalized. I grew up assuming abortion was just a normal thing. I never needed to have an abortion, though I felt that I was on the brink of needing one many times.
There was nothing about having children that appealed to me as a teen, most particularly having to get up early. I particularly knew that I wanted to sleep in all the time, and could not fathom the alternative. I think I could foresee, realistically and from looking at my mother’s life, that childbearing would be the end of sleeping in and, further, the end of time-wasting, musing, meandering, and doing as I please in general. And I highly value doing as I please.
After I ceased babysitting for pocket money and stopped being a child myself, I ceased to be around children. I increasingly realized that I did not enjoy the company of children in any way, especially not in the way I valued the company of adults. In fact, I realized I am totally uninterested in children and anything to do with them.
I saw that the “having” of the children was the easy part. For all but the most economically advantaged women, having even one child is a full-time job, and it would have been for me. Having a child is signing up for a lifetime of domestic and emotional labor, not to mention figuring out how to support them. That is a lifelong commitment to which I have always seen no benefit.
Also, I worried that if I did have a child I would not like that child. Not every parent and child are a good match. I know tons and tons of people who do not have good relationships with their parents or their kids. It seems to be somewhat a matter of luck. Bad odds.
I knew that I would not be able to deal with raising a boy child, and in those days there was no way to ensure I would have a girl child. So that alone was clearly a problem even if I had thought that maybe I wanted to raise a girl child.”
“While I cannot say what another person will or will not feel in the future, I can say that I have ABSOLUTELY NO REGRETS about not having reproduced, and I NEVER HAVE for even one moment of my life.
In fact, on many a day I stand in the sunshine and give thanks that I never had kids and that I do not have to devote a significant part of my conscious and unconscious mind to the well-being of a person whose behavior and happiness are beyond my control, yet for which I feel (and am held) somehow responsible. I feel that, far from having missed anything, I have gained immeasurably from a childfree life. Had I desired to enjoy the company of children at any point, there are plenty around I could have borrowed. I never had the urge.
Also, I am extremely glad to not be tied to another being or beings who have also co-produced and/or co-raised this being, even though we have ceased to maintain a collegial relationship otherwise.
As for the issue of grandchildren and whether I regret not having these, I am also happy to not have to have the responsibility of doing the emotional and domestic labor of helping to raise grandchildren, although I understand that many people do enjoy them. Again, if I wanted to be around young children there are plenty I could borrow.
Very often, if one has children one is then called on to take charge when one’s offspring abdicate responsibility for their own children, as I contemplated in my own girlhood. Not having children in the first place prevented this occurrence.
And while I appreciate that maybe some feel that there is less pressure to police the grandchildren and thus more room to enjoy them, they are still children, and just because they carry some of my genetic material they are still children. Also, I am glad that I do not have to engage in disagreements with anyone about how they are raising children, as I would likely do if I objected to the way someone was raising my grandchildren. Yet I would have no say or control. I would find this maddening. This seems like a bad situation waiting to happen.
Again, I prefer the company of adults to children, who I find less than interesting. I find children to be narcissistically unable to talk about anything that does not directly concern them. I don’t know if this is endemic to childhood itself or if it is because children today are not taught to do otherwise. At any rate, I highly prize the art of conversation, and I don’t find that children are particularly good at or interested in the art of conversation, and also not generally interested in any of the subjects I myself am most passionately interested in.
Particularly, I do not enjoy the censorship that is considered to be necessary when one is in the presence of children. To me, the most interesting topics of conversation are completely prohibited around children, such as the varieties of adult misbehavior. One must censor what media one accesses if there are children around. To me, conversation suffers when concern for children is prioritized. This goes also for the activities of children: children’s TV shows, movies, games, toys, pursuits, etc. — none of these hold interest for me. And then there is the way that one is expected, in Western culture, to subsume one’s life to one’s children and drive them from one end of the city to the other to pursue sports, lessons, competitions, playdates … Really, one should think long and hard about the above issues and more before one signs up for motherhood.”
Ann Davidman, 64 years old
“I was in my late 40’s when I realized that my life was not going to play out in the way that I would have wanted it to in order to have a child. I made a decision to put it behind me. I had my own version of a no baby shower and had a ritual to say good-bye to a dream that I had had. I never looked back. Now that I am in my 60’s I count my lucky stars that I never had a child who would be a teenager now. Phew!”
“Hogwash! Bullshit! What a load of crap! How dare anyone say that to anyone. No one can know what is best for another. This decision could not be more personal. And I am a firm believer that one has to first discover their desire for parenthood or not and know why they want what they want. Then they can make a decision. But their desire and their decision is completely personal. And I believe that fear of regret is more often about the past than the future. It’s about something that already never got to be. We cannot know what the future will feel like or how it will unfold. We can only know what we want and do our best to make that happen. This decision is nobody’s business.”
Jennifer Moore, 57 years old
“I was in my early 30’s. I’d broken off an engagement and started graduate school to earn my MA in psychology & religion. Up to that point, despite the absence of a ticking biological clock or a burning desire to become a mom, I figured I would eventually settle down and have kids. It was being in another relationship with someone who had a toddler that cinched the deal. Being awakened at dawn by a two-year-old begging for soy milk helped me to realize I wasn’t cut out for full-time parenting. Sleep, solitude, and personal space are vital to me.”
“Fortunately no one has ever said this to my face. I’ve certainly had conversations about this choice but the dear ones in my world understand and respect my choice to be childfree. At this point, that ship sailed long ago. My reality about regret increasing with time is that the opposite has been true for me. The older I get the clearer I am that this was the best choice for me. There are so many things I’ve been able to experience and do because my focus could be directed towards my creative priorities, continuing education & spiritual development.
I sometimes wonder what the real motive is behind telling a childfree woman she’ll regret her choice. Is it the fear of aging with no children to handle future elder care? If the motivation behind having children is to ensure our elder care in the future it seems like a major lifestyle change and a substantial commitment of time and resources for something that may or may not pan out. Just because we have children doesn’t mean they‘ll reciprocate in our golden years.
Is it the idea that bringing a child into this world is the only way to achieve true fulfillment as a woman? If this is what someone believes I’m pretty sure I’d just smile and sweetly say something like ‘I’m so glad being a mom is so fulfilling for you.’”
Next time someone says to you that you will regret your decision to remain childfree when you reach your golden years, you can tell them that the wise and more experienced elder childfree have stated otherwise.
And I, for one, can’t help but feel grateful and excited about the fact that a few years from now, I will be the one telling young childfree women about my own experiences of having chosen to live a life on my own terms.
Isabel is the founder and firebrand of The Uprising Spark, which was created in 2019 to help courageous childfree women who want to heal the insecurities, the guilt, the shame, or the anger surrounding their choice to not have children by providing personalized coaching services so they can thrive and light up their world. Pragmatic, no-nonsense life coach and host of The Honest Uproar podcast. One of the three Founding Non-Mothers of Childfree Girls. World traveler, avid kitesurfer, and passionate about dogs.